September 28 is World Rabies Day. The purpose of the day is to raise awareness about the burden of rabies and bring together partners to enhance prevention and control efforts worldwide, according to the Center for Disease Control.
Unfortunately, a great number of people get their knowledge from watching television and movies.
For many people their knowledge stems from the closing minutes of the Disney classic Old Yeller.
In those final frames, a rabid ridden Yeller has to be put down for the protection of the family who love him.
Some knowledge comes from Stephen King’s book and movie Cujo where a rabid St. Bernard terrorizes a woman and her child.
While these vicious stories make for good Hollywood movies they are far from the truth.
“Most movies exaggerate facts to increase the ‘wow’ factor for the plot of the movie,” said Branch Chief of Fort Bragg Veterinary Services Capt. Jeremy Lewis.
According to Lewis, there have been no documented cases of rabies in dogs here at Fort Bragg in five years. The only animals that have tested positive for the disease are raccoons.
“While there may be wild animals in the area that are carrying rabies, most cats and dogs in America are vaccinated against rabies,” said Lewis.
It is a requirement that dogs and cats living on post are vaccinated. As long as your pet is up to date, the risk of your dog or cat contracting rabies is low.
Despite the requirement of personal pets being vaccinated and the low number of rabies cases here on post, adults and children, need to remain vigilant against the disease.
This means not trying to provoke or capture wild and domestic animals you are not familiar with, according to Lewis.
“You should never approach an animal you are unfamiliar with,” said Fort Bragg Rabies Prevention and Surveillance Control Manager Lisa Webster.
“However, if you have possibly been exposed to the saliva of a wild, feral, stray or a domestic mammal you should report to Womack Army Medical Center Emergency Room.”
This exposure can potentially occur via the skin, such as a bite, scratch, abrasion or the mucous membranes, such as eyes, nose, and mouth.
Symptoms of rabies exposure can mimic those similar to flu to include general weakness or discomfort, fever, or headache.
These symptoms may last for days. There may also be discomfort or a prickling or itching sensation at the bite site, progressing within days to symptoms of cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, confusion, or agitation.
As the disease progresses, the person may experience delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, and insomnia. The acute period of disease typically ends after two to 10 days.
According to Webster, once clinical signs of rabies appear, the disease is nearly always fatal, and treatment is typically supportive.
People may be reluctant to report they were possibly exposed to a rabid animal due to another urban legend surrounding rabies treatments for humans.
Many believe the treatment involves 13 injections to the belly.
Webster says this is not true.
“Typically vaccinations are started as close to the exposure site as possible,” she said. “The vaccinations are typically four injections over 14 days and can be continued at the WAMC Allergy/Immunization Clinic. One of the most effective ways to decrease the chance for infection is to wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water before coming to the WAMC ER.”
“Please report to the Emergency Department for evaluation if you are awaken by a bat in your room. Bat wounds can be very small,” said Lewis. “Bats sometimes scratch or bite a person without the person’s knowledge.”
The Center for Disease Control website says if people are aware of the types of animals that are most affected by rabies they can take steps to make sure they and their pets avoid them. The animals most affected by rabies in the U.S. are bats, raccoons, fox and skunks.
“In 2017, there was one raccoon and one fox found with rabies in Cumberland County,” said Lewis.
“In Harnett County, there were two raccoons found with rabies. In the past five years at Fort Bragg the only animals to have tested positive for rabies were raccoons.”
Knowing the signs of rabies in an animal can help to determine if animal control needs to be alerted.
According to Lewis, animals with rabies will exhibit abnormal behavior. For instance, a wild animal that doesn’t seem to be afraid of people or an animal that is out at an abnormal time of day.
Rabid animals can have two forms. The furious form of the disease has an increase in aggression of the animal. The animal will drool and foam at the mouth because of paralysis of the muscles in the throat. The animal will also be fearful of water and appear very ill. Animals with the dumb form of the disease do not experience the increased aggression but appear uncoordinated and depressed. The other signs will be similar. These can indicate that an animal is sick and that sickness can be rabies.
Lewis recommends alerting animal control or local police if an animal is seen exhibiting these symptoms.
Since a vaccine was developed in 1885 the number of rabies cases has dropped drastically that people have become blissfully unaware to its signs and symptoms in both animals and humans.
World Rabies Day on September 28, provides an opportunity to throw away myths and gain real knowledge about this mysterious disease, which still effects people and their pets 133 years after a cure was found.